For politicians, embracing the flag seems like a no-brainer. What better way to assure voters that you have the national interest in mind than vigorous displays of patriotism?
Does flag-waving help Democrats or Republicans?
But our research suggests that flag-waving might not benefit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – and may even help Donald Trump and the Republican Party instead.
Republicans have frequently emphasized patriotism in contemporary presidential campaigns. For instance, George H.W. Bush in 1988 criticized Michael Dukakis for vetoing a law that would have required teachers to lead their classes in the pledge of allegiance. In 2008, Republicans questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism because he did not consistently wear a flag pin on his lapel. And in 2012, our analysis found that 43 percent of Mitt Romney’s campaign ads featured an image of the American flag, while 34 percent of Obama’s did.
This might explain why Republicans in recent decades have “owned” patriotism as a political concept, along with policy differences on military affairs and related topics. While there’s nothing inherently partisan about patriotism, voters consistently see Republican candidates as more patriotic than Democrats. And voters with traditionally patriotic attitudes tend to cast ballots for Republicans.
Indeed, a highly publicized 2011 psychology study by Travis J. Carter, Melissa J. Ferguson and Ran R. Hassin found that subjects exposed to images of the American flag were more likely to express support for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, John McCain.
[… continued with more studies..]
Of course, the influence of flags is small
To be sure, the influence of flags is small and unlikely to be decisive. Since the groups affected by flag imagery are Republican-leaning, this suggests that exposure to the flag reinforces Republican loyalty among those who might be likely to waver. This probably works in tandem with other campaign events, rhetoric, and imagery.
But taken together, these flag studies indicate that Republicans would do well to wave the flag, while Democrats might want to be more cautious about using it.